PolyMet needs a Health Impact Assessment

health-impact squareOne critical gap in the PolyMet supplement draft Environmental Impact Statement is a lack of analysis on the impact to public health from the proposed mine.  Workers, nearby residents, and people downstream of the mine deserve a complete picture of the public health implications of PolyMet’s proposal. There are a number of risks to public health – direct (e.g. air and water pollution, increased traffic, workplace safety) and indirect (e.g. changes in the social determinants of health, access to health care, and changes in the community.)

A Health Impact Assessment is an established tool used in the State of Alaska for the review of mine proposals like PolyMet. In order to get a full picture of the public health impact and ways to mitigate these impacts, one should be conducted as part of the environmental review of PolyMet’s mine plan.

Health experts agree: A Health Impact Assessment of PolyMet is needed

“A Health Impact Assessment (HIA) is a research and community engagement process that can be used to help ensure that people’s health and concerns are being considered when decisions on infrastructure and land use projects are being made. [...]

An HIA on the [PolyMet] project could provide additional health information for policy makers in determining how to balance health and citizens’ concerns with economic benefits of the project. An HIA could be scaled according to available resources and still answer some of the health questions posed by the community. An HIA could provide recommendations to policy makers to support possible positive health outcomes and to mitigate or prevent possible negative health outcomes to improve the public’s health and to inform zoning, permitting, monitoring, and reclamation policies.”Dr. Edward Ehlinger, Commissioner, Minnesota Department of Health

“The PolyMet NorthMet Supplemental Draft Environmental Impact Statement (SDEIS) contains inadequate analysis of the impacts on public health from the proposal. The co-lead agencies should conduct and include a health impact assessment (HIA) in the Environmental Impact Statement to fully analyze the public health implications of PolyMet’s proposed mine. [...] A HIA would integrate human health into the environmental review of the PolyMet NorthMet proposal, allow consideration of mitigation measures, and involve the community in planning for the project.”Minnesota Nurses Association

“The PolyMet SDEIS also provides an insufficient analysis of the human health risks of other pollutants, such as neurologic morbidity resulting from manganese and lead release; and carcinogenic effects of air emissions of diesel, asbestos-like fibers, nickel and other particulates, and of arsenic releases to water. The PolyMet SDEIS fails to analyze health risks to workers who would work on-site at the PolyMet mine or plant and fails to assess impacts of tailings groundwater seepage on nearby residential populations. The PolyMet SDEIS does not discuss impacts of exposures to vulnerable populations, such as infants, children, the elderly and persons who rely for subsistence on fish, wild rice or game species, where pollutants may bioaccumulate.

For these reasons, we … request that the PolyMet SDEIS be determined inadequate pending supplementation to include a Health Impacts Assessment, under the direction of the Minnesota Health Department.” – Comment signed by forty-six Doctors and Health Professionals